by Ian Lordon
Haida Gwaiis forests are home to more than trees, the temperate wet climate of the rainforest is widely recognized as one of the richest, rarest, most diverse ecosystems in the world. Given the history of industrial activity in the forests, it should come as no surprise that among the many species of plants and wildlife inhabiting the Islands, several are on or approaching the brink of extinction.
Already Dawson Caribou, once unique to Haida Gwaii, are long gone and the BC Conservation Data Centre has identified more than eighty local plants and animals which are threatened to follow in the unfortunate footsteps of the infamous Dodo. Globally, species are vanishing at a rate unseen since the dinosaurs ceased to walk the earth and governments in Canada, far from taking a leadership role in stemming the rising tide of oblivion, are instead adopting half-hearted measures which many scientists and environmentalists view as sorely inadequate.
Federal and provincial endangered species legislation in BC doesnt go much further than acknowledging those species which are threatened by extinction while offering little in the way of protection or restorative effort. Perhaps most significantly, the habitat these species depend upon continues to be disposed of on a daily basis like so many empty ketchup bottles, bic lighters, and dirty diapers.
In BC, the provincial government is in the early stages of implementing its Identified Wildlife Management Strategy. This consists of placing endangered species on one of three lists red, blue, or yellow based on their relative peril of extinction. Red-listed species are the most endangered, and as such, receive the greatest attention from the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection the ministry primarily responsible for executing the program. Once a species is identified as threatened, the only tool available to help secure its survival is the establishment of a wildlife habitat area (WHA). Of all the land in BC which is open to logging (also known as the Timber Harvesting Land Base), a maximum of only one percent can be designated WHA to help promote the survival of threatened species.
WHAs are not parks, they are not protected areas, they are not no-go zones for development although a portion of them may be. They are intended to provide an added level of protection for endangered species over and above whats afforded to them through the Forest Practices Code. However, what WHAs often amount to is an added level of legal complexity for industrial interests to contend with before they log or mine an area inhabited by endangered species. And if understanding the implications of a WHA strikes some as convoluted, the process for establishing one is only more so.
Anyone can propose a WHA, but before it can be established the parties affected by the proposal are consulted, and three separate committees are obliged to review, comment, and approve the plan. In other words, for every hectare designated WHA, there are a hundred miles of red tape to be reckoned with.
Three years since it was first implemented, the Identified Wildlife Management Strategy has produced 70 WHAs in all of BC, nearly twenty on Haida Gwaii. Those 70 areas account for slightly more than 1,000 hectares of land that is considered eligible for timber harvesting. 1,000 hectares may strike some as significant, but considering there are nearly 1,300 red and blue-listed species of plants and animals in BC, it amounts to less than a hectare of logging area per species.
By these weak province-wide standards, Haida Gwaii has been relatively fortunate. The Islands first WHA is the provinces largest: 2,400 hectares designated to protect nesting habitat for the red-listed QCI Northern Goshawk in Bonanza Creek, 600 hectares in harvestable forest. The plan calls for a 240-hectare no-development zone in the area immediately surrounding a nest home to a breeding pair of Goshawks for the last five years. The balance of the 2400 hectares is referred to as foraging area, at least 40 percent of which is available for logging and road building with some restrictions. Its no sanctuary, but its better than nothing.
The Bonanza Creek WHA was established last fall and since then 18 more WHAs were introduced along coastal areas of the archipelago to protect Ancient Murrelet and Cassins Auklet nesting habitat. None of the coastal WHAs will worry local logging companies as they do not affect areas with harvestable timber.
Of the 17 red-listed species identified on Haida Gwaii only two, the QCI Northern Goshawk and Marbled Murrelet, are likely to receive added protection from WHAs any time soon. A second WHA to protect Goshawks is in the works for the Datlemen watershed. If approved, it will be the last designated for the endangered raptor on the Islands due to restrictions imposed by the Ministry. Restrictions the Ministry is determined to uphold even in light of development pressures now threatening five other known nesting areas located on Haida Gwaii.
So far only the Saw-whet owl and Hairy woodpecker may also receive consideration farther down the road. The remaining unlucky threatened species, for the foreseeable future at least, will simply have to fend for themselves.
SpruceRoots Magazine - July 2002